Be Firmly Convinced

Okay . . . so pretty sure this is the worst of devotional practices . . . taking verses — worse yet, pieces of verses — way out of context. But gonna anyway. Here’s what I’m chewing on this morning . . .

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime . . .

(Romans 13:11-13a ESV)

Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

(Romans 14:5b ESV)

Context for these verses (the context I’m kinda ignoring in a way)? Found in Paul’s “so what” section of his letter to the Romans. In light of the glories of the gospel presented in chapters 1 thru 11, chapter 12 thru the beginning of 15 provides some pretty practical instruction on how to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God in response to His abundant grace and many mercies. The Romans 13 verses above are found in a section dealing with fulfilling the law by loving each other. The partial verse from Romans 14 is from some practical counsel on how Christians should get along when it comes to permissible, yet perhaps controversial, practices.

But here’s what I’m thinking after a weird, calm and chaotic week (Calm, cause we’re all staying home. Chaotic, because the situation around us is changing daily and increasingly distancing itself from anything we’d consider normal). If anything, this relatively sudden “upset condition” should cause everyone to take pause. To recognize how fragile our seemingly solid worlds really are. It’s an hour to wake from our sleep, and give some serious thought to our goals, our priorities, our securities, maybe, for some of us, reconnecting with the real source of our identity.

A brother asked me yesterday if I thought COVID-19 was a sign of the end times. Of course it is, as have been many natural disasters over the millennia. Paul was looking for Christ’s return when he wrote. We still should have an “eye to the sky” as we read Paul 2,000 years later. Every day our “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Just most days we don’t think about it. These days . . . maybe a little more. So, it’s another opportunity for a wake up call. Another opportunity to shake the dust off, take a run at evaluating the status quo, and recalibrating what it means to “walk properly as in the daytime.”

And that brings me to the partial verse in Romans 14. Whatever we do, however we react in these unprecedented times, we’ll do because of what we are fully convinced of in our own minds. We’re gonna default to that which is dictated by our doctrine. Our course will be determined by our convictions. Our path directed by our principles. Our way forward informed by our faith.

If that’s true, then it makes sense to pause and ask ourselves, “What do I really believe about what I say I believe?”

How firmly convinced am I that I can trust in the Lord with all my heart, lean not to my own understanding, knowing He, ultimately and faithfully, will make straight my paths (Prov. 3:5-6)? Or, that I am part of a body of believers that needs me to engage in loving one another (Rom. 13:8). Or, that I’m salt and light in the world and I need to figure out how to love my neighbor as myself (Rom. 13:9)? Or, that through the Spirit I really can operate with the mind of Christ and put the interests of others before my own (Php. 2:4-8)? Or, that to live really is Christ and to die really is gain (Php. 1:21)? Or, . . . you get the idea.

What are we firmly convinced of in our own minds? What promises have we memorized that now we’re ready to mobilize?

Why is this important? To quote someone who quoted Tozer in something I read: “A scared world needs a fearless church.”

Perfect love — God’s perfect love, the love we say we have known and experienced — perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18). If we’re firmly convinced of God’s unfailing, unchanging, steadfast love in our minds, then it casts out fear when fear tries to creep in. And, it makes for the fearless church our frightened world so needs. Fearless not in our own power, but in gospel power.

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

(Mark 9:24b ESV . . . another partial verse out of context . . oh well)

Let the church be the church.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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Not Just for Our Good

Until I got to the songwriter’s song this morning, I was kind of overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “commands to obey” I was highlighting in my readings in Deuteronomy and Romans. Ready to perhaps compare and contrast, in some manner, the instructions of Moses to purge the evil, maintain their distinction, and honor their God, with Paul’s commands to present our bodies, conform not to the world, and seek to do the will of the Father beginning with the Body of Christ.

But then, I read Psalm 67. And the first line in this song pointed to something else from the writings of Moses, something my daughter tried to put on my radar a number of days ago but I which I listened to only last night before turning in. Two signposts, encountered in less than a twelve hour period — one as I prepared to sleep, the other shortly after I awoke — pointing to the same thing. Coincidence? Nope.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us,

Selah

(Psalm 67:1 ESV)

Clearly a reference to the priestly blessing God gave Moses and Aaron for His people back in Numbers (6:22-27). Just like the song my daughter shared with me.

A prayer given for God’s people. A prayer, as is evident in this song, to be prayed by God’s people.

A prayer, frankly, we should always be praying. Always acknowledging our daily need for the grace, blessing, and face of God upon us. But one which, I confess, seems less “necessary” in times of stability when I think I have all things well under control.

So the songwriter paraphrases the blessing and then, mid-sentence, pauses. Selah.

Selah. Stop. Take a breath. Wait. Let the singing cease, let the instruments play. Think on what you’ve just sung. Meditate on what you’ve just uttered. Chew on what you’ve just read. Selah.

God, be gracious to us. Oh, how we need Your unmerited, undeserved favor. Father, bless us. Act according to Your promises. Intervene in our situation. Let the rain fall and the land bear much fruit. Creator and Sustainer, make Your face shine upon us. May we know Your nearness. Let us experience the warmth and reality of Your presence.

How does that not resonate, especially in times like these?

God is for us. No one and nothing can be against us. Greater is He that is in us than anything that is in the world. He has redeemed us, and has done so for our good.

True statements. Amen?

But wait . . . there’s more!

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us,

Selah

that Your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations.

(Psalm 67:1-2 ESV)

More than for just our good, He has owned us as His for His glory. Thus, we seek His grace, blessing, and His face, for more than just our benefit, but that others might know He is God. That His favor upon His people would make Him known throughout all the earth. That His power to save, sustain, and deliver would be recognized among all the nations.

We seek God’s favor at times such as these (right thing to do), but may it not be just for our self-preserving good, but also for His Self-revealing glory. That our neighbors might see a peace that passes understanding pointing to the Prince of Peace. A hope that is abiding making known the One in whom we abide. A confidence that is unfailing, not because of who we are and what we can do, but because of who He is and what He has done. His face shining on us, then reflecting off us to those who need to know His light.

Not just for our good — though, Lord, how we long for protection and power in our lives — but more importantly, for His glory.

Selah.

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A Place of Abundance

Hovering over Psalm 66 this morning. Funny how the psalms have a particular connection in stressful times. Funny, too, how encountering a reference to testing seems to be a beacon that, in this current season, seems to say, “Listen up, here!”

For You, O God, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; You laid a crushing burden on our backs; You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water . . .

(Psalm 66:10-12a ESV)

Pretty descriptive. Kind of paints a picture. Brought into a net. A crushing burden on their backs. Men riding over their heads. Trying to endure the flames of fire only to then try and keep their heads above water. Ouch!

And who has allowed all this? Where does the buck stop for bad things happening to God’s people or, as the case might be, to all people? God, You have permitted this, says the songwriter, You have tested us. Passing us “like silver through refining fires” (MSG).

But here’s the thing about this song, Psalm 66 isn’t a song of lament. It’s actually a song of praise.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! . . . Come and see what God has done: He is awesome in His deeds toward the children of man.

(Psalm 66:1-2, 5 ESV)

While we might be tempted, at times, to want to retreat into a corner, cover our ears and close our eyes, now’s the time to “come and see” what God’s doing. Time to tune in. It’s in the context of testing, and refining, and exposing flimsy foundations, where God shows Himself always true, unshakably reliable, and the firmest of all foundations.

And, while not wanting to be trite or appearing to minimize the gravity of the current situation, isn’t the principle at play that, after a wilderness wandering, there’s inevitably a promised land (or, at the least, you’re getting closer and more ready for the promised land)? And that, my friends, is reason to rejoice. That’s why the songwriter calls God’s people to praise. Because, after the desert, there’s a place of abundance.

You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet You have brought us out to a place of abundance.

(Psalm 66:12 ESV)

I’ve got enough to deal with for today, but thinking it’s worth pausing to remember that there’s hope for tomorrow. To take a deep breath, be still, and know afresh there’s a place of abundance.

Right here, right now, because our God in heaven is near, our flesh on earth can dwell secure (Ps. 16:8-9). That is a place of abundance.

Increasingly feeling confined to our homes (not just feeling), yet mindful that, our ability to abide in Him, and abide with Him, is unaffected. That’s also a place of abundance.

Knowing that this temporary time of wilderness wandering is only beginning, we call to mind the unceasing, steadfast love of the Lord as the source for the daily sustaining realities of a faithful God whose mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:21-23). Abundance . . . even in this place. Right here, right now.

And, not to forget, the place promised to me on that Day, “and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2Tim. 4:8). That place where being absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2Cor. 5:4-8). An eternal place of abundance!

A song of praise on our lips, though we bear burdens on our backs, because we know there is right now, and there always will be, a place of abundance.

And because of that, it is well with my soul. And that, my friends, is an awesome deed, indeed!

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for my soul.

(Psalm 66:16 ESV)

Reason to rejoice. Power for praise. Worthy of our worship.

By His grace. For His glory.

Amen?

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Humbled for Testing

Couldn’t imagine such a little text having such a potentially big impact. Someone I met with Sunday afternoon texted me Monday morning with, “Pete, I am running a low fever today.” Not words you want to hear at this current time in this current situation. So whaddya do?

Stayed home. Canceled commitments. Got myself a Zoom account for a meeting planned that night. Thought lots. Prayed lots. (Oh yeah, and I got my taxes done . . . praise God!).

Not to overuse an overused word, but this really is an unprecedented time. And, as pandemics have a way of doing, I can say, without exaggeration, it’s an unprecedented time for all of us!

So here’s what grabbed me as I was reading this morning:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

(Deuteronomy 8:2 ESV)

Not too likely this is going to be a “40 years in the wilderness” experience, but it’s certainly going to be at least 40 days in uncharted territory. In Deuteronomy Moses points out what God was doing to that generation which was just emerging from doing laps around Sinai. Wondering if we might be wise to heed their “lessons learned” as we walk into a season of doing laps around our homes.

God wants to humble us. Uh, mission accomplished. For all the self-determined power we think we might have, all the self-directed freedom we think we’ve created through our own wisdom and works, it’s kind of jaw-dropping what a combo of a few letters and couple of numbers (think COVID-19) can do to turn our world literally upside down. Kind of humbling.

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

(Isaiah 40:21-23)

Grasshoppers! Good grief! Who’s gonna name their elite sports team “The Grasshoppers” or their league the GFL? Who’s gonna dedicate their million dollar science and research building to someone named “Grasshopper”? Who’s gonna build a workout facility and call it “Grasshoppers’ Gym”? Unless we specialize in entomology, most of us never think about grasshoppers except maybe, as Boomers, when we think Jiminy Cricket, or, as a back-to-the-basics foodies, we’re eating them.

God has a way of allowing things to come into our lives, in this case our collective lives, to humble us. Why? To test us. To know what’s in our heart. To shine a spotlight. To do some housecleaning, if necessary.

Pride, be gone. Self-sufficiency, take a hike. Confidence in my material accumulations, don’t look at what’s happening in the market. Instead, look up, look way up. Behold our God!

And He led the children of deliverance into the wilderness to see “whether you would keep His commandments or not.” And as we head into this season of trying to navigate this uncharted territory some of the commandments that might come to mind immediately are: “Fear not . . .” (Isa. 41:10); “Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . ” (Prov. 3:5-6); “Love one another . . . ” (Jn 13:34); “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone . . . ” (Gal. 6:10); “Be ready with an answer . . .” (1Pet. 3:15).

Unprecedented (there’s that word again) days. Unchanging God. Unfaltering faithfulness. Unfailing hope. Inexhaustible grace.

Humbled so that our hearts might be tested.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Humbled so that He might be known through our obedience.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” ~ Jesus

(John 10:27 ESV)

Humbled so that we might stand fast.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

(1Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

By His grace. For His glory.

p.s. Texted my friend before turning in last night. Fever false alarm. Whew!

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Lead Me to the Rock

It’s a little after 4:30 a.m. and I have been awake for way too long, already. Trouble sleeping. Because of all that’s going on? Or, because of that burger I shouldn’t have eaten? Not sure. But for the past hour or so I have been reading a number of articles on COVID-19 and counsel on avoiding panic while being prudent in light of our governor’s direction to curtail the assembling of ourselves together.

Easy to read “a number of articles” because, on the Internet, every article is linked to another. The net has built itself on rabbit trails. Everyone with a computer, regardless of where they reside geographically, can post and share their insights and experience, and then, provide a link to their source or someone else with good stuff to share. Wisdom required to sort through the ton of world-wide information at hand and apply it to the local situation at hand. Too easy to spend too much time clicking on too many urls. Every click leading down a different path. Maybe that’s why the songwriter’s plea resonates so deeply this morning.

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

(Psalm 61:1-3 ESV)

That’s where I need to end up this morning, the Rock that is higher than I.

I can follow all the hyperlinks I want but, at some point, I need to click and reconnect with things above. With the One above. With the Rock that is higher than I. The One who is a firm foundation, a resolute refuge, and a strong tower.

To be sure, I need to be informed and wise. Much to consider in how to submit to those in authority, honor the weak among us, and love the community about us. Principles to be applied. Decisions to be made.

But when all is said and done, “Lord, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”

To the King who is seated upon His throne, sovereign over all the earth. To the great High Priest in heaven, even now interceding for His people. To the risen Conqueror over sin and death, remembering that if God is for us, who can be against us.

I need to be diligent and prudent. I can also be assured and at peace.

COVID-19 is rocking the world: the world at large; my world and its microcosm. But greater is the Rock in me than the rocks of the world (1Jn. 4:4).

A Rock higher than I. A refuge in the storm. A strong tower against the enemy of sin, sickness, and death. Thus, I will fear no evil, for He is with me; His rod and His staff, they comfort me (Ps. 23:4).

Been led to a lot of web pages this morning. Now it’s time to be led to the Rock.

To refocus on the Rock. To rejoice in the Rock. To rest in the Rock.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Free To Be a Debtor

Lots of terms come to mind to describe the believer like . . . well, like believer. Or saint. Or brother or sister. Child of God. Disciple. Redeemed. New creation. You get the idea. And I’m sure we could add to the list if we noodled on it a bit.

But this morning I encountered a synonym for the believer in Romans 8 that I don’t really consider often, as in, very rarely. Certainly not a term I’m quick to use. But one worth chewing on, I think.

If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

(Romans 8:11-12 ESV)

So then, brothers (and you too, sisters), we are debtors. Hmmm . . .

In Romans 8, Paul masterfully paints a magnificent picture of the potential of the life that can be lived in Christ through the Spirit. A life of freedom (8:1). A life of peace (8:6). A life of adoption (8:15). A life of power (8:26). A life of promise (8:28). And all this life, through the Spirit who “dwells in you” (8:11).

Sure, we have the option, and the ever present opportunity, to take all this new potential and saddle it with old pursuits, continuing to live according to the old ways. We can still set our mind on the things of the flesh. We can still pursue that which ultimately results in death. But Paul says we no longer have to. We have no enduring obligation to the old nature. No duty to the old ways limited by the old man.

But now, in Christ, we can walk in the Spirit. And to that end, I’m reminded this morning, I have an obligation. To that, I am duty bound. I owe it to the One who has freely given me new life, with new promise, and new power, to walk in that new life, that new promise, and that new power. I owe it to Him!

I am a debtor to the potential within me. Not a potential of my own making, but His. Not for my boasting, but for His glory.

So, how do I repay this debt? How do I live as a debtor to the Spirit? First, by just wanting to realize this new potential and live life according to the Spirit (8:4). And then, by taking steps that regularly help me set my mind on things of the Spirit (8:5). By determining, with as much as lies within me, to submit my will to His will, wanting to walk according to His leading (8:14). Along the way trusting in the Spirit to help in times of weakness and to intercede in times of uncertainty and confusion (8:26-27).

There really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1). Praise God! And that, because the Spirit of life has set me free (8:2).

Free to be a debtor.

By His grace. For His glory.

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No Inheritance

They were already part of a misfit nation. A people within a people that was trying to find a place among other people who didn’t want them in their midst.

To just be an Israelite was to paddle upstream against the flow, to stand out in the crowd of the nations who occupied the land. But to be a Levite? That was to do it without an oar (or, at least, without any land) and, with a big “L” stamped on your forehead (“L” for Levite, of course).

Thinking about the Levites this morning as I read the census of the generation of wilderness wanderers ready to enter the promised land (Num. 26).

All the congregation of Israel was counted on the basis of every male who was twenty years old and upward, “who are able to go to war” (26:2). They were to be counted so that they knew how much “promise land” they should receive — each tribe’s inheritance to be allotted in proportion to each tribe’s size (26:52-56). And though Levi was the third born of the twelve sons fathered by Jacob, you get through the census — twelve tribes counted, almost 602,000 twenty+ males numbered — and there’s no mention of the Levites. (Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, the saving son who once ruled in Egypt, taking two spots through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim).

How come?

This was the list of the Levites according to their clans: of Gershon, the clan of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the clan of the Kohathites; of Merari, the clan of the Merarites. . . . And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward. For they were not listed among the people of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.

(Numbers 26:57, 62 ESV)

They were of the line of a son of Jacob, just like the rest. But there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.

Four hundred years in Egyptian bondage, just like everyone else. But no inheritance. Forty years of walking in circles in the wilderness, just like the other people of God. But no inheritance. Ready to fight to take the land God had promised them. But no inheritance.

So, if you’re a Levite, how ya’ feelin’?

Among a people set apart for God, they were specially set apart.

“Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine.

(Numbers 3:13 ESV)

They were to be the nation’s offering to the God who was worthy of all firstfruits.

Set apart among a set apart people, they were to be God’s elite army of worship warriors. Ministering in the tent of meeting. Serving in the tabernacle. Setting a guard around the holy place of God when the camp was still. Bearing the tabernacle and it’s furnishings on their shoulders when Israel was on the move. All with no hope of possessing any land to call their own. Just a life of being set apart, called as God’s own.

If that’s you, how ya’ feelin’? That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

Feeling special or especially swindled? Chosen or cheated? Euphoric or used?

If they had had their hearts set on settling down on 40 acres they could call their own, like everyone else, they were in for disappointment and frustration. But if they had set their hearts on the God of their calling, the God who they would be serving, the God into whose presence they could draw nearer to than anyone else, maybe they’d see each day more as a blessing than a burden.

I’m no Levite, but I wonder how I’d feel about it if I were. Not much of a story to tell in terms of the things of earth, but a legacy to leave of serving the God of heaven. Content with what I had, though less than those around me, because I knew I had been consecrated for service to the Most High God. Not much of an inheritance to look forward to here and now, at least nothing that lasted, but sure of an inheritance to be realized there and then, one “that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1Pet. 1:4).

No inheritance. Just an eternity. No earthly legacy, but life everlasting. No place to leave my mark, but content that my name is written in the Book.

So how am I feelin’? Pretty good, actually. Pretty blessed.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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